A Precious Thing

Yesterday morning I got up with my head full of our Suffolk County Council election campaign, I checked my emails, answered a few questions from our candidates and did a little social media, then off to the Campaign office to write letters and stuff envelopes with an old friend and my fellow Councillor on FHDC Nigel and his wife Sandra.  Day ahead to involve delivering our residents survey, some filming with the BBC on the campaign trail and then collating and entering survey results.  All safe in the knowledge that despite the occasional comment on the doorstep, we would be safe and free to do so.  All the time setting out our vision for Suffolk and why ours is better than …insert other political group.

Then came the shocking news and TV pictures in which a terrorist ploughed a car into innocent men, women and children and then, when tackled, fatally stabbed a brave unarmed policeman guarding our MPs and their staff as they debated and voted on our behalf.

It’s at these sad moments that you are reminded that life is a precious thing and so is democracy and there are those out there they do not value either.  For now we are shocked, quietly mourn and have the deepest sympathies for those who have been injured or lost loved ones.  But as we continue to go about our lives, I for one, am reminded that voting and democracy are precious things to be cherished.

SCC Conservative Manifesto 2017

SCCCG Campaign 2017 - Manifesto Front PageToday Suffolk Conservative’s launch our Manifesto for the Suffolk County Council elections on 4th May.

It’s been 12 months in the planning and every single pledge is costed and has been debates by our candidates going back across a series of meetings starting last September.

Its build on literally thousands of doorstep conversations and online surveys where people have over the past couple of years told us their priorities for Suffolk and what they want us to continue to do and build on.

  • Residents tell us they want us to continue to keep the Council tax as low as possible building on our outstanding 7 years of delivering a 0% rise in the base Council Tax.
  • Residents tell us they want us to spend more of our roads, investing to prevent pot holes from happening and where they inevitably do, be quicker about repairing them.
  • Residents tell us they want us to continue to look after the vulnerable adults and children in our communities and protect the budgets for doing so, just as we have been.
  • Residents tell us that we need to put Suffolk at the forefront of infrastructure spending and I hope last week’s announcements on the two new bridges for Suffolk show that we are.
  • Residents tell us we need to work with Business across Suffolk to provide higher paying Jobs and new homes at the same time as protecting our unique countryside that makes Suffolk such a wonderful place to live, work, raise our families and have a long and enjoyable life in.

Our Manifesto sets this vision out.

https://www.suffolkconservatives.org.uk/news/suffolk-conservatives-launch-may-2017-manifesto

Vote Conservative on May 4th.

 

In or Out

Europe in outLike many who follow politics I have watch the last few days with great interest to learn of the ‘deal’ has David Cameron returned with.  There was the first stab at it two weeks ago, which was a bit rubbish and at the end of last week we watched the late night/early morning comings and goings in Brussels, the first Saturday Cabinet meeting since the Falkland’s War and then the Prime Minister emerging from No.10 to announce the worst kept secret for ages that there will be an in/out referendum on our membership of the EU on June 23rd. Yesterday every political show and Sunday broadsheet poured over the ‘deal’ and which, mainly Conservative politicians, were going to back the ‘in’ campaign or the ‘out’ campaign.  Labour seems to have been largely ignored as the internal differences in the Conservative party seems to be of far more interest to the media than anything Corbin has to say.

So we have a few months ahead to hear the arguments and to think about what is a difficult decision to make but one we should all take very seriously, even if in life politics largely leaves you cold and you feel it has little to do with you or for you, this vote does.  The decision we collectively make on 23rd June will have a profound impact on our lives for many years to come.  Make the right one and we have a bright future ahead of us, make the wrong one and the fundamental living standards of all our families will suffer.

For me its boils down to three basic things, Security, Jobs and Economic Prosperity.  If you can work out which way I will be voting based on those three tests without reading further, then I suggest you know which way you should vote, either way you’ve made your decision and there is no need to read further, but if you do, thank you as firstly it’s good for my blog stats and I perhaps I can add a little something to your decision making processes before we all completely burn out with the debate overload that is to come.

In terms of security I have been to Brussels on a few occasions both to learn more and occasionally on my political work, if you visit the European Parliament building you will come across the references to its founding Fathers all born of the Second World War in one way or another.  One of these was Winston Churchill who believed those that trade together, do not wage war against each other and he has been proven to be right.  As the Iron Curtain fell we saw in the Balkans what can go horribly wrong on European soil.  Yet for the main part the EU expanded and those poor previously subjugated countries peacefully emerged and are catching up fast and become places for us to trade.  I do not, nor I suggest should you, underestimate how that process could have gone wrong but has not. Oh I hear you say it could not happen again, well in the hard economic times that areas of Europe have had of late the hard right and hard left are there just below the surface, make no mistake of that. For all the talk of net contributors and what we do or do not get out of it, Europe is a safer place for the EU and so are we.

Secondly where I live the economy is in part built on migrant workers, those here doing jobs we have not got the skilled people to do, are working both ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ style sending money home to families and here raising their families, making a new life for themselves and paying their taxes.  The free movement of people does not mean much to us, but in Europe given the forced movement of people with millions dying in the process during and historically significantly, after the Second World War, this is a cornerstone of the union.  So David Cameron’s sensible caveat that if you claim child benefit here it is scaled to where your children reside and that if after 6 months you do not have a job then you must return to your place of origin and ask that state for support, is remarkable.  It’s also a measured set of rules that make more sense of free movement of people, one I can see slowly being adopted in other parts of the EU.  Yes, come here, work hard and enjoy all that brings and benefit our society but not scrounge off of us.

Thirdly and as one recent US President said “It’s the economy, stupid” if we leave, will GB flourish or flounder? On the one hand it’s often said that just look at countries like Norway and Switzerland and how successfully they trade with Europe, well Britain is far bigger with far more companies competing with European ones and we would be leaving. To my mind most European Leaders are wedded to the EU in a political sense which we struggle a little to understand here, their political capital, the thing that keeps them in a job and their opposition out of one, is about the success of their relationship with the EU.  So I ponder, if we exit, is it in their personal political advantage for us to flourish nor not? I think not.  Of course many countries such as Germany like free trade with us to sell their luxury goods to us, aka BMW and Mercedes but for most a successful Britain outside of the EU would be a weapon to their opposition to argue to also leave and take out the ruling politicians in the process. So I suspect if we leave trade barriers would appear and we would find trading with our key market, for that is what it is, for it will take another 40 years to try to rebuild a different trading landscape, our key market would become a more difficult place for British companies to do business. For the most part, British based businesses and companies have yet to speak and when they do I think we will understand their fears, fears we should all share.

For these reasons I shall be voting to stay in the EU.

 

Stonewall Top 100

LGB&T SCC LogoGood news came reached me last Tuesday when I was informed that at an awards ceremony in London, Stonewall announced which organisations have been included in their Workplace Equality Index for 2016 and  Suffolk County Council was confirmed as having been  successful in maintaining a place in the Top 100 at position 78.  This represents a significant rise of 20 places compared to 2015 when Stonewall introduced more challenging criteria. Also congratulations are in order to Suffolk Police at position 15.

This success demonstrates Suffolk CC is a good place to work for LGB&T staff and that SCC makes efforts to ensure that staff across the organisation understand how to support their LGB&T colleagues.  Cllr Sarah Stamp, Cabinet Member for Communities and thus lead member for equalities and inclusion said: “I am delighted that Suffolk County Council is recognised as one of the Top 100 employers in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2016.  This achievement acts as a demonstration of our ongoing commitment to support LGB&T staff across the organisation”.

Matt Woor, Chair of the Suffolk County Council LGB&T Staff Network said: “I am thrilled that Suffolk County Council has improved its position within the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.  Every year the work involved in making the top 100 gets harder, so it is fantastic that we have been able to rise to this challenge once again.”

I echo both comments, for some this seems a difficult subject area, but not for me, I believe that we are here in public life to protect our values, our heritage and that a tolerant, fair society is at the heart of our great county and I will do all I can in the time, I am involved in Public Life to promote this position in any of the organisations I am involved in.  Being a Stonewall Top 100 employer clearly demonstration the importance that Suffolk County Council places upon supporting LGB&T equality, both within its workforce and also within the wider community of Suffolk.

Suffolk

on the sofa with BBC Radio Suffolk's Lesley Dolphin at the Suffolk Show

on the sofa with BBC Radio Suffolk’s Lesley Dolphin at the Suffolk Show

A couple of Friday’s ago, fresh in my new role on Suffolk County Council, I was on BBC Radio Suffolk Mark Murphy’s ‘Hot Seat’ an hour long grilling with phone in and tough questions from Mark. Earlier in the day the county council’s Labour Opposition Leader had described me as more acerbic and aggressive than my predecessor and I tend to think that is usually unfair but in his case when I have to listen to the unreformed Socialist nonsense he insists on repeating as he does, I suspect he gets that about right!

That aside, for me the interview was about setting out in part how we need to work together across Local government to protect services for the most vulnerable in our community that is Suffolk and deliver the services people expect from us, never sure the extent to which you get these things across in a free flowing interview but hope I did.

I also hoped I got across just how much I love our county, I am Suffolk Born and Breed and I am once, twice and always a Lakenheath Boy. My childhood was spent on a Saturday watching the Blues from the then new Portman Road stand and our summer holidays were spent in Felixstowe at my parents holiday home in Western Avenue. I literally went to school in the back of a builders van and growing up at the dinner table its was all about business and the community in which we lived. We do things a certain way in Suffolk and its important that we mirror that, proud of what we do well, careful in how we plan but open to changing things if we can find a better way working with our partners and communities and it is clear with the emerging agenda on Devolution this way of working will be how we take public sector services forward in Suffolk not just local government but Health, police, indeed potentially the totality of government spend in our communities. So for all the savings we have to make, it is still a very exciting time to be in Local Government.

And one of the wonderful things about being from Suffolk is the Suffolk Show, l was there last Wednesday and the weather was glorious and I had a pleasure to welcome the show President Terry Hunt and his wife Jane, to have a look around the County Council stand. It was designed to be how the public sector works with each and everyone of us as we make our journey through life and to be interactive, so it started with face painting for the kids from the team in Children’s services and finsihed with things like the Coffee Caravan, a voluntary sector organisation, talking about how they go out and explain the services available for older people in their community across Suffolk. Just before I left to travel back for the Forest Heath District Council AGM I popped along to the Radio Suffolk stand and had a chat with Lesley Dolphin about all the great things at the show, a truly lovely celebration fo all things Suffolk.

Experience

magnifying-glassOver the past few months I have been honoured to be a part of the LGA Peer Challenge programme for Councils, I’ve completed 4 Peer Challenges which usually last for a week at a time, enough time to get under the skin of how something works. In the first one the team I was a part of looked at the very serious business of Adult Safeguarding and what arrangements are in place to first detect abuse and then stop it. Next I was asked to be a part of a team that looked at a recently formed people’s directorate where the two biggest departments Children and Adults were merged and how that was working, then I helped look at a Health and Board and how that was bringing Health and Social care together serving a large rural population and last month I was part of a team that looked at the restructuring of a Council and the creation of a commissioning function and its effectiveness in shaping services.

During the weeks you meet people who use services, providers from voluntary organisations and commercial companies, officers and Councillors, you read and work through literally thousands of pages of vast bundles of strategy papers and spend time feeding back your impressions and findings. And I’ve learnt two things, firstly every council is the same and every council is remarkable different, by that I mean, most councils delivery the save basic services but because they are local, because they reflect the values and traditions of an area they are all different and that is a powerful thing. But for me the most powerful thing I’ve learnt is all the while you reflect back, thinking about how does that work for people in my home village of Lakenheath, across the villages of Row Heath, for Suffolk’s voluntary organisations and providers, in Forest Heath District Council and across Suffolk County Council.

Currently my colleagues and I are discussing who amongst us should lead our group on the County Council. There are many qualities needed and for me experience is one of them, experience is more than a CV or a list of roles you’ve done, it’s the resource you draw on as you work with your community to balance the conflicting challenge of the things you would want to do, that every councillor across the political divide wants to do but with the limited funding at your disposal. It’s a resource that you draw on to unite your group and get out there talking with people about the challenges ahead, your experience of working with real people who rely on the services to help them live their lives and listen to everyone about what services they value and how ‘the council’ delivers those services, as you make the decisions that lay ahead, experience matters.

Viva 0%, long live 0%

0 percentLast Friday afternoon at Forest Heath District Council’s Full Council meeting we set the council tax rate rise for the coming budget year at 0% this comes on the back of 4 years of 0%, another remarkable achievement in these times of significant government grant cuts. At Forest Heath what is even more striking is that services have been maintained and in my Role as Chairman of the Performance and Audit Scrutiny Committee I have seen, in many cases services have actually improved over the past 4 years. Even the one Councillor who bizarrely voted against the reorganisation that has facilitated the savings to achieve this, voted in favour of the 0% Council Tax rise, which is equally bizarrely because he as a Parish Council Chairman, he has been behind some of the most massive Precept hikes that council has ever seen with it going up almost a third in the last 2 years. Not sure what people should look for in their Councillor’s but consistency might be a start! Last Friday week I blogged about the County Council’s budget setting and spoke about why I got into Local Politics, Forest Heath has thankfully not had to suffer a Labour/Liberal coalition and so the contrast in council tax rate setting is not as stark, but my principles is just the same, councils should live within their means and stop treating hard pressed families as cash cows. As I said a couple of weeks ago I accept that 0% council tax rises are unstainable in the long term, of course they are, inflation is inflation and cannot be absorbed forever equally we have an ageing population but we are not at that point yet. I think it’s a sort of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ when Councillors start to say council tax must rise and we can’t keep delivering 0%, why not?, costs in most councils are still significantly higher than a business would consider as acceptable overhead, and I am talking overhead not front line, for councils are principally a people business in service delivery. I think, alongside re-organisation, there is still quite a ways to go. At Forest Heath, Conservatives have politically lead this remarkable achievement by sharing services with our neighbour’s St. Edmundsbury Borough Council, instigating a cabinet system of decision making, halving the staff numbers and investing in technology to streamline the business, lots more to do but it’s a start that is saving money and protecting services and keeping the Council tax down. Whoever wins in May, further cuts in local government funding are to be expected and it will be interesting to see those Councils with the political will to make the council live within its means and those councils where officers hold power and council tax goes up! So viva 0%, long live 0% and watch the political group and the emerging local government manifestos as to whom are the true champions of the hard earned money you are obliged to pay in Council Tax.

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